13 December 2004

Cairo - an Anagram of Chaos?

Dubai's tagline is "Welcome to 21st Century Arabia!", Cairo's could only be "Welcome back to 11th Century Anywhere!"

Cairo is loud and in a general state of disrepair, such that it looks like a recent survivor of natural disaster. Outside our hotel is a busy road populated by banged-up cabs, donkey carts and overcrowded mini buses. Over the roar of cars and the honking of horns we occasionally hear the bleating of goats grazing in the debris-strewn lot next door. A group of abandoned houses, bricks and concrete blocks littering what once were back gardens, it's a mystery why they are uninhabited when the rest of the city is overcrowded with apartment blocks, some of which have hand-constructed hovels attached alongside and on the roof. Some of these huts are literally on the footpath, washing hung out to dry creating a thin protective shield from the outside world.


These living conditions didn't change, but only became more primitive, as we left Cairo. The geography of Egypt is such that there is a very clear line between the fertile areas on either side of the Nile which suddenly give way to the complete barrenness of the Eastern and Western deserts. While Cairo retains many aspects of a rural lifestyle: goat and sheep herds in the road, farming communities butting up to main roads and industrial areas, anywhere else farming is the only occupation for those not working in the tourist industry.


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